For years, Janet Pierson worked with her producer husband John as stalwarts of the indie film community. But since 2008, she's applied her skills as what she calls "a compulsive helper" to sustain one of the world's most prominent young film festivals. Under Pierson's guidance, SXSW has introduced emerging filmmaking talent like Lena Dunham and Sophia Takal while keeping pace with SXSW's other hulking properties, Interactive and Music.
"I’m just really interested in people who I think are talented," Pierson said. "And I try to find ways to help them. I’ve been able to be in this independent film world – in a number of different environments and situations – where I’ve been able to do that."
In 2009, Pierson programmed Dunham's microbudget debut feature "Creative Nonfiction." The next year, Dunham came to the festival with "Tiny Furniture," which led to the next big steps of her career. "The success comes from her having a transformative experience and finding collaborators," Pierson said. The next Dunham came to the festival, it was to premiere the first season of HBO's "Girls." The show, Pierson said, "has had more cultural impact for a relatively new artist than anything else I can recall in the last five years."
Managing growth at SXSW. "It’s hard," she said of the increasingly crowded affair. "SXSW is an extremely exciting place. There’s nowhere else like it."
"Trying to make every year better than the year before. The challenge is in an incredibly noisy world, how do you clarify the messages? How do you get your voice heard?"
Pierson will tackle her sixth SXSW in 2014, but she prefers to take things one day at a time. "I don’t think very far ahead," she said. "I read once about this thing called 'transition anxiety syndrome.' And I realized I have it. I’m always happy where I am, so I don’t really see well ahead."